Kong BBQ – Worth All The Hype!

panda 4 rating

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There was so much hype surrounding the opening of Kong in Richmond, especially after the trial run of some of the food you could eat at the Rue & Co branch. The branding is all about the Pandas – and as per my blog name – anything to do with Pandas and I am in! A bunch of us (there were 6 of us) decided to try it out on a Tuesday night and aimed to get there around 6pm. I had heard about the long queues – with the wait time being over an hour! Kong doesn’t take bookings, however if you arrive at the restaurant you can put your name down for a table and they will contact you when a table comes up.

Kong is the latest addition to The Lucas Group. Chris Lucas has brought us the likes of Chin Chin (Melbourne CBD) and Baby (Richmond – and just up the road from where Kong is located). Kong is located on the site of what was once Pearl, and Eades & Bergman have been brought in to help with this transformation. Kong seats 60 people – with a mixture of single low tables, long communal tables and seating all around the bar / kitchen, as well as in the corridor as you walk into the restaurant. These seats give you a vantage point to see your dishes being prepared. The tables are blonde wood, the look industrial mixed together with an anime vibe thanks to the array of pandas around the venue. There are the signature neon signs (these can be found in all their other venues) as well as a film being projected. During the day you can imagine fresh sunlight streaming in from its floor to ceiling windows which surround the restaurant this corner site restaurant.

The Executive Chef here is Benjamin Cooper together with Dan Briggs and all the chefs here at Kong wear red baseball caps which have three letter slogans on them – either KIM, CHI or BBQ – a nice touch that further adds character to Kong.
The idea behind Kong is to combine barbeque pit cooking techniques with Japanese and Korean flavours. The focus is on seafood and meat being cooked on either an open-flamed charcoal grill or in a smoke oven. If you get seating around the kitchen you can experience the smoke rising from the pit ovens which is a visual spectacle that will have your taste buds dancing being tantalized in anticipation of the meats/seafood to come. It is also good to note that Kong uses only chemical free charcoal and sustainable Australian Hard-Wood.

The menu is split into 8 different sections – Small, Ssam Roti-Roll, Buns, Wings, Natural Fire, Ribs, Rice & Green and Desserts. Small dishes include Wood Grilled Scallops, Trio of Kimchi & Pickles, Beef Tartare and Nasu Miso just to name a few. The Ssam Roti-Roll have fillings such as Teriyaki Roast Ora King Salmon, BBQ Chicken, Grilled Miso Marinated Tofu and Pulled Pork. Smoked Brisket, Spicy Pork Belly, Soft Shell Crab and Peanut Butter Salt & Pepper Tofu are the options you have to choose from in the Bun Section. There are four variations of Wings that you can order from – Honey, Garlic & Sesame Korean Wings, Hot Wings with Gochujang and Chipotle, Soy Wings or Peanut Butter Wings.
Natural Fire are from the BBQ Pit and cover most seafood and meat options. There is also a Kong Bossam BBQ Tray – Chicken, Pork, Pork Belly and Beef Brisket served with Lettuce, Pickles, Kimchi and Walnut Ssamjang – at a bargain price of $28 a tray. Rice & Greens include two different types of Fried Rice, Dukkbokki Rice Cakes, Spicy Cabbage Slaw, Wood Roasted Pumpkin etc. Desserts have a smaller selection – only 4 to choose from but they all sound quite delicious so the number doesn’t really matter.

I arrived before the other girls around 6:15pm and as there were going to be six of us (as everyone had to be there before we could have a table), I put my name down on the list and the wait even at that time was going to be around 45mins. Since I had been fasting all day I wanted to order something small whilst I was waiting for the others to arrive. I was seated along the wall on the high benches and decided on the BBQ Corn with Chilli Salt and Miso Butter. It wans’t just because I was really hungry but this corn was deliciously amazing! The corn had been bbq’d perfectly and emit just the right amount of smoky flavours. The corn itself was juicy and “crunchy” and the combination of the miso butter and chilli salt was the icing on the corn so to speak – it added an additional salty and spicy hit to combine with the sweetness of the corn.

Whilst waiting for the girls to arrive and for our table to be ready we were able to order drinks – I ordered the Lychee & Grapefruit Crush with Coconut Water. This drink came out in a glass jar topped with ice and pieces of fresh grapefruit and was not only thirst quenching but refreshing as well. I had to stop myself from drinking it all in one sip!

Once we were seated we had the mammoth task of deciding what dishes we wanted to order. We had a mix of vegetarians and a pescatarian (me!), as well as people that could eat everything. We picked dishes that we would work to cater to everyones needs and asked our friendly waiter if the amount of food we ordered was enough. He was happy to assist and told us that if we wanted anymore dishes we could just order as we went.

We started off with the Wood Grilled Edamame with Chilli and Sea Salt. The Edamame was fresh and had somewhat of a smoky flavour coming from the wood grill with a hint of spice. A tasty dish.

Next up we ordered the famous Ssam Roti Rolls – we got a serving each to suit the three categories of requirements – Ssam Roti Roll – BBQ Chicken with Lemon, Gochujang and KimChi, Ssam Roti Roll – Grilled Miso Marinated Tofu with Pickled Cabbage and Kewpie Mayo and Ssam Roti Roll – Teriyaki Roast Ora King Salmon, Wok Fried Broccoli and Tomato.
I tasted the Ssam Roti Roll with the Roast Ora King Salmon which was superb! The roti on the outside was divine – thin, crispy and buttery – the perfect casing. The filling was rich and full of flavours with the broccoli, tomato and the spicy, creamy sauce working seamlessly with the perfectly cooked salmon. I would definitely recommend this dish. I did also sample the Ssam Roti Toll with Tofu which was another flavoursome dish, but my pick would definitely be for the King Salmon.

Some of the other girls ordered the Wings – Korean Fried Wings with Honey, Garlic and Sesame, however upon eating this they found the chicken overly sweet and couldn’t eat the dish. They knew the dish would have a sweet tone to it – after all it did contain honey; however they weren’t expecting the sweetness to be so overpowering. They mentioned this to our waiter who was happy to replace the wings with another serving in a different flavour. They then ordered the Wings – Hot Wings with Gochujang and Chipotle. They really enjoyed this dish which had a real kick of spice and a peppery taste.

I also ordered a serving of the Soft Shell Crab with Salted Duck Egg Relish and Coriander. The bao bun was soft and as you bit into it felt like you were eating clouds. This combined with the crunch of the crab paired with the amazing creamy duck egg relish was a match made in heaven! The coriander added freshness to the whole dish. You could just keep eating these buns and not get sick of them.

A few of the girls ordered the Wood Grilled Scallops with Tobanjan and Mirin Pickled Radish – which comes served in a shell and topped with micro herbs and radish. They loved the flavours and really enjoyed the scallops – which were cooked to the right consistency.

We ordered the Dukkbokki Rice Cakes with Red Chilli, Gochujang and Roasted Parsnip which was quite the colourful dish when it came out. Amid a dark blue backdrop of the dish – the rice cakes were a vibrant burnt orange colour peppered with greens and reds. I have never seen rice cakes in this form before and was intrigued to see how it tasted. The cakes were rectangular in shape and were soft to eat – with the dish having a sweet and sour flavour to it. I loved the addition of the veggies and the chilli which worked well with the texture and flavouring of the dish as a whole.

We couldn’t leave Kong without trying something from the Natural Fire section and ordered the Wood Roasted Salmon with Crispy Skin, Seaweed Salad and KimChi. The dish was beautifully presented with the Crispy Skin standing tall next to the Roasted Salmon. Instead of the seaweed salad we had a broccoli salad mix – which I found to be quite fresh and tasty. The wood roasted Salmon was another good dish – the smoky flavours immersed with the natural flavours of the salmon.

We were all keen to try the Kimchi at Kong – after all Kimchi is a signature Korean dish! And the fact that Kong has signs relating to this dish – “It’s not ordinary cabbage, it’s fermented cabbage” almost egged us on to try the dish out. The Kimchi was spicy, tangy and flavoursome and went above and beyond all of our expectations. Yum!

The last dish that we ordered was the Fried Rice with Spicy Enoki Mushroom and Soy Charred Tofu. I was surprised to see pumpkin seeds on top when it came out. The dish was fresh, spicy and delicious. I loved the combination of tofu and mushrooms in the rice.

The dessert offerings when compared with the rest of the menu are minimal but the quality and taste that they come in make up for this fact. We ordered the Coconut Sago with Passionfruit and Pineapple Trifle and the Apple and Walnut Tart with Miso Butterscotch and Japanese Whisky Ice Cream. Both dishes are impeccably presented with flavours to match.

The Trifle comes served in a clear glass – showcasing the many layers of the trifle. The trick with these desserts is to get a taste of each layer in one mouthful. The finely cut pieces of pineapple makes up the base layer, with the passionfruit compote with passionfruit seeds being the next layer, and finished with the coconut sago. This dessert was a light and refreshing dessert packed with fruity flavours and textures. A definite fave of mine.

The girls enjoyed the apple and walnut tart – which came out presented with a large ball of Japanese Whisky Ice Cream on placed on top amidst the array of walnuts. They said there was only a slight taste to the whisky ice cream but was delicious nonetheless. The pastry that encased the tender apples was buttery and soft, with the added crunch of the walnut crumble. There was a sweet caramel taste mixed with the creaminess of the ice cream.

What needs to be mentioned is the staffing – they are friendly and helpful and despite the lines going out the door they do not come across as flustered at all. They keep an calm demeanour and go above and beyond expectations to make you feel at home even if you are waiting upwards of an hour. Another reason why this place is doing so well.

Kong is brilliant addition to the wonderful world of dining that exists in Melbourne – with offerings of an interesting menu complete with fresh flavours, smoky excitement and spiciness. Meat lovers will adore this place (especially the BBQ Tray) but really anyone will love it. What’s not to love about a friendly and warm welcome, together with cute pandas, a great fit-out and an enthusiastic vibe?

NOTE: Kong now offers Takeaway – which can be ordered online for pickup.

Rating : 4 Pandas
Price: $$
Menu – Refer to Picture above. You can find the Takeaway menu at http://www.kongbbq.com.au/takeaway which will give you an idea of what the main menu has to offer.
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Funky, Vibrant and Fun-Filled. Great for a catchup with friends and family.
Standout Dish: Bun – Soft Shell Crab with Salted Duck Egg Relish and Coriander, Ssam Roti Roll – Teriyaki Roast Ora King Salmon, Wok Fried Broccoli and Tomato
Service: Fantastic – really friendly and helpful! They really do well for a place that is packed to brim majority of the time.
Online Booking: No – Kong is a walk-in only restaurant.
Restaurant Details and Location:
kongbbq.com.au
599 Church St, Richmond
Tel No: 9427 1307

Opening Hours:
Monday to Sunday: 11am – Late

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kongbbq
Twitter: @kongbbq
Instagram: kongbbq

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Popol Nah – Latin American in Carlton

panda 3.5 rating

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After the footy one evening N & I needed a place for dinner and decided to venture to the Carlton area. We used to frequent this area quite a bit back in the uni days, but as of late this hasn’t been the case. Carlton (Lygon Street in particular) is best known for its abundance of Italian restaurants filled with pizzas, pastas and gelatos – and lesser known for other cuisines such as Thai, Latin American or even Modern Australian. I had come across Popol Nah a Latin American fusion restaurant located at the city end of Lygon Street and decided to try it out on this night.

Popol Nah – which can be roughly translated to “The Peoples House” occupies a medium sized space – set amongst the Italian competition of course – and has an interesting design element to it. There are wooden planks running along one wall, overlapping each other in a haphazard style that oozes creativeness along with a modern version of a moose head. On the other is a textured crinkled white wall, together with two antlers hanging. There are large sticks placed in a vase of water which is located at the bar. Quirky, fun and a tad bit strange but it works. There is a communal table at the front of the main dining area, along with wooden tables that seat from two to larger parties. There is also seating at the front on Lygon street itself, as well as small courtyard at the back. Popol Nah can seat around 80 people. The interior is created by Peter Strateas and Mario Luca Carlucci of Strateas (a Brunswick based label). Popol Nah is open 7 days a week for both brunch and dinner.

The menu is created by New York based, Honduran born Cali Rivera and constitutes of South American and Latin fusion cuisine. The dinner menu is split into three sections – Chicos (Small dishes), Intermedio (In Between dishes) and ends with Carnes (Meats). There is also a Desserts menu with a selection of 5 different dishes such as Dulce de Leche, Rice Pudding, Chocolate Cake and Poached Quince just to name a few. There is also a Brunch Menu available which is split into 7 sections – Licuados (Smoothies), Huevos (Eggs) – you can choose from Baked Eggs or Scrambled Eggs, Ensaladas (Salads) – you can choose from two different vegetarian salads such as Mixed Seasonal Fruit with Mint and Ginger or Zucchini, Kale, Cucumber and Pickled Veggies, Bocadillos (Sandwiches), Empanadas (Baked Pasties) – there is a vegetarian option – chickpea, sweet potato, silver beet with crème fresca or one with chorizo and potato with coriander mayo, Anafres (Hot Plates) – which constitute of cheese fondue and lastly Mas Comida (More Food) – which have dishes such as Lamb & Beef Meatballs, Patatas Bravas and Prawn skewers.

There is also an extensive drinks menu – from Sangrias, Cocktails to a variety of Wines – from countries like Spain, Chile, Argentina and Australia – to an interesting selection of non-alcoholic drinks. Carolyn Brown the sommelier has a great understanding and knowledge of drinks and has put together a great selection. I decided to try the Chicha Morada – a non-alcoholic drink which had Purple Corn, Pineapple, Cinnamon and Cloves. The drink was purple in colour – due to the use of purple corn of course. I have never had purple corn before – but I think that it essentially tastes the same as yellow corn but has better health benefits and a higher amount of antioxidants. The combination of pineapple, cinnamon and cloves made for an interesting taste – not too sweet with spicy hints. It was a non-alcoholic version of a sangria and I really enjoyed it.

The first dish we ordered was the Empanada De Chorizo Y Papa – Chorizo and Potato in Baked Pastry with Coriander Mayo. N really enjoyed this – the pastry was crisp, crunchy and tasty on the outside with the chorizo and potato filling on the inside flavoursome and light. The mayo was creamy and a delicious addition.

I ordered the Ceviche De Camaron – Carribean Style Ceviche – Shrimp, Red Onion, Lime, Coriander, Tomato and Chips. The combination of ingredients was refreshing – I especially liked the addition of the coriander and lime. My favourite part of this dish was the chips – they were crispy, crunchy and tasted delicious. They had just the right amount of seasoning and worked well with the ceviche. I also liked the presentation of the dish – it came out in a stone mortar and pestle and the way in which the ceviche and chips were positioned reminded me of a bouquet of flowers.

The last dish we ordered was the Cordero Ranchero – Slow Cooked Lamb Shank in Spicy Tomato, Fresh And Dried Peppers with Quinoa, Kale and Cucumber Salad. The lamb was cooked beautifully and fell off the bone – just what you want from a dish like this. The sauce looked spicy and N said it did have a hint of spice to it. I tried the Quinoa, Kale and Cucumber Salad – which was fresh, flavoured with a tang as well as a hint of chilli – the perfect combination. The dish was presented well again – the contrast of the blue background of the rectangular plate against the bright browny red sauce was magnificent.

The service of the staff is great – everyone that served us was really friendly and happy to offer us suggestions and ensure we had everything we needed.

The brunch menu looks really interesting and I will definitely be back to try out some of their dishes. The décor is interesting and very different to anything you would normally find on Lygon Street. Head down and check out some great tasting South American fusion food.

Rating : 3.5 Pandas
Price: $$
Menu – For the Brunch, Dinner and Drinks menu refer to http://popolnah.com.au/?cat=2
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Interesting, Unique and Funky. Great relaxed feel.
Standout Dish: Empanada De Chorizo Y Papa
Service: Friendly, Helpful and Warm
Online Booking: No, but Popol Nah takes bookings.
Restaurant Details and Location:
http://popolnah.com.au/
171 Lygon Street, Carlton
Tel No: 9347 3293

Opening Hours:
Monday to Thursday: 11:30am – 10:00pm
Friday & Saturday: 11:30am – 11:00pm
Sunday: 11:30am – 10:00pm

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